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By Dr. Riya Parikh, PharmD

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With so many topical pain relief products out there, it can be difficult to decide which one to use. In this article, we will be looking at some common topical over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for pain relief and discussing their similarities and differences.

Are Voltaren, Biofreeze, Salonpas, and Blue Emu all the Same?

Voltaren, Biofreeze, Salonpas, and Blue-Emu are all different medications that offer pain relief. Each product may be formulated with similar ingredients, so it is vital to check the label on each product before purchasing. Voltaren is a name brand for a gel containing diclofenac sodium - a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug component. Blue-Emu contains oil from the fat of the Australian emu bird, whereas Biofreeze and Salonpas contain counterirritants such as menthol and a combination of menthol with methyl salicylate, respectively. Counterirritants help alleviate pain by triggering a cooling and warming effect.

 Voltaren, Biofreeze, Salonpas, and Blue-Emu are not the same medications, though each brand may carry formulations that contain similar ingredients, so it is important to check the labeling of each product before purchasing. 

What is Voltaren and How Does Voltaren Work?

Voltaren is a name brand for diclofenac sodium gel, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Voltaren works by stopping the production of a substance that causes pain in the body. Voltaren is commonly used to relieve arthritic pain in joints of the knees, ankles, feet, elbows, wrists, and hands. 

What is Biofreeze and How Does Biofreeze Work?

Biofreeze is a topical pain reliever consisting of menthol as an active ingredient, which helps soothe minor muscle and joint pain. Menthol provides pain relief through its interactions with the cold receptors in the skin and results in a cold sensation. The cold feeling interferes with the transmission of pain signaling to the brain. 

What is Salonpas and How Does Salonpas Work?

Salonpas is a topical analgesic containing 4% lidocaine, which aids in the treatment of nerve pain due to herpes zoster or shingles. It comes in the form of a patch applied to the affected area, which results in absorption of the active ingredient into the skin for relief from pain and inflammation. The lidocaine blocks transmission of pain and provides a temporary relief of mild to moderate pain in muscles and joints from strains, sprains, backache, arthritis, and bruises. (See also Curist Lidocaine 4% Patches.)

What is Blue-Emu and How Does Blue-Emu Work?

Blue-Emu is a brand known for its over-the-counter topical pain relief products that offer relief from joint and muscle pain. Blue-Emu cream contains emu oil as its active ingredient. Made from the refined fat of the Australian emu birds, emu oil is purported to have antiinflammatory properties. By reducing inflammation, it can aid in relief from muscle pain, strains and sprains, bruises, back pain, achy joints, arthritis pain, dry or cracked heels, and itchy feet. 

What are the Key Differences between Voltaren, Biofreeze, Salonpas, and Blue-Emu?

Voltaren, Biofreeze, Salonpas, and Blue-Emu all differ in their active ingredients and formulation. Voltaren comes in the form of a gel and contains diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Salonpas comes as a patch and contains lidocaine. Blue-emu contains emu oil and comes in the form of a foam, spray, and cream. Biofreeze contains menthol as an active ingredient and is marketed in the form of gel, cream, spray, and patches. The menthol component in biofreeze shows immediate effect and lasts for 5-8 hours depending on the formulation. 

What is the Best Topical Pain Relief for Arthritis: Biofreeze vs Blue-Emu vs Voltaren vs Salonpas

Biofreeze, Blue-Emu, Voltaren, and Salonpas can all be used to alleviate joint pain to some extent. The 2019 American College of Rheumatology Guidelines for management of Osteoarthritis strongly recommend use of topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for arthritic joint pain in the knee. Since Voltaren contains diclofenac sodium, a non-steroidal antiinflammatory drug, it can be effectively used as a first-line option to reduce pain from arthritic inflammation. However, since Voltaren is recommended for application only on hands, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and feet, an alternative option may be necessary when treating pain in other areas of the body. It should also be noted that the Voltaren dose for feet, ankles or knees is 4 grams applied four times daily and the total maximum dose on these areas is 16 grams daily. By contrast, the dose for hands, wrists, or elbows is 2 grams applied four times daily and the total dose should not exceed more than 8 grams each day to these areas. 

Though Biofreeze, Blue Emu, and Salonpas do not contain any NSAIDs, they may provide some alleviation of pain from osteoarthritis.

What is the Best Topical Pain Relief for Muscle Pain: Blue-Emu vs Biofreeze vs Voltaren vs Salonpas

Besides Voltaren, all of the aforementioned OTC products may be used for pain relief from muscle pain. Voltaren is indicated to be used only on joints of the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and feet and is not advised for use in other areas of the body such as the back, hip, or shoulders. Both Biofreeze and Salonpas contain counterirritants that help in pain relief by providing a hot and cold feeling to the area of application. Blue-Emu may also be used for temporary relief of muscle aches and pains. 

What is the Best Topical Cream for Joint Pain: Blue-Emu vs Voltaren vs Biofreeze vs Salonpas

For joint pain in smaller areas such as the wrists, hands, elbows, knees and feet, Voltaren is an excellent option due to the diclofenac sodium, which helps soothe pain from inflammation in the joints. For other areas of the body such as the back, hip, or shoulders, diclofenac sodium is not advised for use. Depending on their formulations, Salonpas, Biofreeze, and Blue-Emu may also help with temporary alleviation of joint pain and could serve as alternatives when a larger area needs to be treated.

Can I Use Voltaren, Biofreeze, Salonpas, and Blue-Emu Together?

There may be instances where use of topical pain relievers such as Voltaren, Biofreeze, Salonpas, and Blue-Emu together may be an efficient means to manage pain, such as with arthritis. However, use of multiple topical pain relievers should be practiced under medical supervision. We strongly advise discussing pain relief treatments with your provider before using these products together.

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This content is for informational use only and does not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is not a substitute for and should not be relied upon for specific medical recommendations. Please talk with your doctor about any questions or concerns.